American Flagg! is an American comic book series created by writer-artist Howard Chaykin, published by First Comics from 1983 to 1989. A science fiction series and political satire, it and was set in the U.S., particularly Chicago, Illinois, in the early 2030s. Writers besides Chaykin included Steven Grant, J.M. DeMatteis and Alan Moore.
American Flagg, which ran 50 issues (Oct. 1983 - March 1988), was one of the first titles to be published by First Comics, an early alternative press comics company founded in Evanston, Illinois in 1983. Unusually for the time, the company offered its freelance writers and artists creator rights, including ownership of their creations. Regardless, writer-artist Howard Chaykin, then living in New York City, felt trepidation when First Comics approach him to do a project. He recalled in 2010,
Chaykin devised a series set in 2031, a high-tech but spiritually empty, consumerist world in which the American government has relocated to Mars, leaving what remains of the U.S. to be governed by the all-encompassing corporation the Plex. The series star is Reuben Flagg, a former TV star drafted into the Plexus Rangers and posted as a deputy in Chicago, Illinois.
The first 12 issues, running through cover-date September 1984, consisted of four interlocking, three-issue story arcs. Chaykin recalled his difficulty in producing 28 pages of art and script monthly. "I was still a smoker and a drinker at the time. And [the output was such that] I'd never done anything like that before, and it was insane. It just devoured my life I had no assistants. I didn't how to work with an assistant at that point, and it was a very difficult process. ... I was trying to do a fairly high-quality product and I didn't want to slough it off."
Chaykin made wide use of Craftint Duoshade illustration boards for American Flagg!, which in the period before computers, enabled him to add shaded textures to the finished art. Ken Bruzenak's lettering and logowork also won notice, as it was integral to American Flaggs futuristic, trademark-littered ambiance.
American Flaggs first twelve issues form one complete story, which has become a huge influence upon current comic creators such as Brian Michael Bendis and Warren Ellis. After issue 12, Chaykin continued the story but began to lose interest in the title, concentrating instead on other projects such as his revamp of The Shadow for DC Comics and Time2, which was introduced in a one-off American Flagg! special in 1986. During this timeframe, Alan Moore wrote a back-up story which ran several issues and was wrapped up in a issue length story. The storyline was not well received.
Eventually Chaykin left, to be replaced on a regular basis by first Steven Grant then J.M. DeMatteis, during whose run the title began a sales decline. Chaykin returned to the title for a brief run to wrap up storylines before the first volume was ended in March 1988. The title was relaunched a few months later as Howard Chaykin's Amerikan Flagg!. This run saw Chaykin return to writing the series, with Mike Vosburg and Richard Ory penciling and inking the interior art, but the franchise failed to recapture its early success and was canceled after 12 issues.
The story takes place in the year 2031, after a series of worldwide crises called the Year of the Domino (1996) has forced the U.S. government and the heads of major corporations to relocate to Hammarskjold Center, on Mars ("temporarily, of course"). In the wake of the American government leaving the planet and the Soviet Union collapsing from Islamic insurrections, there was a power shift throughout the world, with Brazilian Union of the Americas and the Pan-African League becoming the new superpowers on Earth.
However, the exiled American government, its corporate backers, and a group of technicians in the defected Soviet lunar colony of Gagaringrad form the Plex: a giant, interplanetary union of corporate and government concerns that conduct commerce and govern the United States from its capital on Mars. Many population centers are grouped around massive, fortified arcologies called Plexmalls and the law is enforced by the Plexus Rangers, the absentee Plex's Earthside militia.
The Plex has formed the Tricentennial Recovery Committee, to get America "back on track for '76", but the TRC is in reality a plan to sell the United States off to the new superpowers and to leech off the remaining inhabitants before gaining true self-sufficiency. As a result, the Plex has outlawed non-combat related education, organized sports such as basketball and personal aircraft, restricted media to only one outlet, the Plex itself (although it has multiple channels), and advocates and glorifies the use of political violence amongst independent policlubs by providing money and firearms for its hit TV show Firefight All Night LIVE!, and covertly sterilizes the population by using a combo contraceptive and antibiotic called Mañanacillin to reduce the population.
This all changes when former television star Reuben Flagg is drafted and transferred to Chicago's Plexmall to replace the local Ranger Hilton "Hammerhead" Krieger's fallen partner. He witnesses widespread graft and corruption throughout the Plexmall, but also a series of subliminal messages implanted in a television show that are causing outbreaks of gang violence. After he uses his emergency powers to interrupt the broadcast, he not only ends the violence, but also brings forth a series of events that causes the Plex to send in covert agents, the death of Hilton, and the unveiling of Q-USA, a secret pirate TV station owned and operated by Krieger that opens Flagg's eyes to the nature of the Plex.
As the series progressed, Chaykin took less and less of a direct role in scripting and plotting the stories out, and by the third year of its run, he really had nothing to do with the book other than cover art. Stories began to violate the rules that Chaykin had explicitly stated in the writer's bible for the series (for instance, California was said to have slid into the Pacific Ocean, but in the final year of the book, California was merely shown to have been abandoned for reasons that were vague at best), and characterizations began to drift considerably as well. (Among other things, Flagg abandoned his interest in '30s jazz, and was frequently shown listening to late-'60s rock, as well as becoming more of a traditional stern-jawed good-guy hero). Complex stories were replaced by cartoonish over-the-top weirdness (as when Flagg meets up with an army of "Reuben Flagg Worshippers," or, as some disgruntled ex-readers called them, "Flaggots"). Whatever spark had flourished in the early years of the book was lost, and readership declined rapidly. After trying and failing several times to shore up declining interests, First Comics decided to lure Chaykin back into the writer's seat. "American Flagg!" wrapped up its principal storyline with issue 50. By this time, Reuben Flagg had traveled to Mars, overthrown the Plex, and become President of the United States. He then decided to separate Illinois from the United States and run it as his own personal fiefdom. All issues of this series took place in the year 2031.
The next year, the comic was re-launched under the name Howard Chaykin's Amerikan Flagg! (The "K" and a reversed "r" were to reflect the fact that most of this series took place in Russia) and picked up from where the earlier book had left off (in 2032). There is some difference of opinion as to whether this new book was intended to be a limited run, or open-ended as is the norm with comics. In either case, it ended after twelve issues. Although hard-core fans welcomed it as a breath of fresh air, it never quite managed to recapture the fun of early '80s. The first four issues of this book were mostly geared towards cleaning up the mess that the American Flagg universe had deteriorated into in the previous couple years. Flagg was arrested in Europe, the Plexmall was destroyed in an accident, and Illinois rejoined the Union. Eventually sprung from Spandau prison, Flagg made his way to Russia, where he again took a job as a Plex Ranger and had several adventures before eventually marrying.
The final issue ends with a photo album of the Flagg's future domestic life, with lots of kids, a screaming shrew of a wife, and a balding, overweight Flagg.
American Flaggs first nine issues were released by First in a series of trade paperbacks, but after the collapse of First they went quickly out of print. Dynamic Forces and Image Comics announced a reprinting of the first twelve issues in both hardcover and paperback editions in 2004, but complications throughout the production process saw publication delayed until July 2008. This edition, entitled Howard Chaykin's American Flagg! Definitive Edition, Vol. 1 (ISBN 1582409838, signed and numbered ISBN 1582409846, Titan Books, ISBN 1845761022), features the first 14 issues of the original First Comics series, an all-new Flagg! story written and drawn by Chaykin, and a foreword and afterword by Michael Chabon and Jim Lee, respectively. Dynamite Entertainment have also produced a hardcover collecting the prelude and the first twelve issues of American Flagg (ISBN 0974963844).
There is also a series of trade paperbacks: